Lithuania has joined the growing list of countries around the world that have come under Chinese coercion. It is time for the transatlantic partners to respond with a policy close to the common defense commitment of Article 5 of NATO. Call it “coercion against one is coercion against all”.

China has put Lithuania, a NATO ally, in the crosshairs of that nation’s relations with Taiwan and its challenge to China’s efforts to gain a political foothold in Central and Eastern Europe.

Lithuania’s challenge to China is twofold. First, the Baltic country allowed Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius, called Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, and then announced plans to open a reciprocal office in Taipei by the end of the year. . China objects to the use of the word “Taiwanese” in the name of the office in Lithuania.

Lithuania has joined the growing list of countries around the world that have come under Chinese coercion. It is time for the transatlantic partners to respond with a policy close to the common defense commitment of Article 5 of NATO. Call it “coercion against one is coercion against all”.

China has put Lithuania, a NATO ally, in the crosshairs of that nation’s relations with Taiwan and its challenge to China’s efforts to gain a political foothold in Central and Eastern Europe.

Lithuania’s challenge to China is twofold. First, the Baltic country allowed Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius, called Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, and then announced plans to open a reciprocal office in Taipei by the end of the year. . China objects to the use of the word “Taiwanese” in the name of the office in Lithuania.

But such usage does not contradict the “One China” policy followed by Europe and the United States. None of the offices is an embassy, ​​and the opening of the offices does not imply recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state. The United States has a similar “American Institute in Taiwan”, which is a private entity sponsored by the United States government that is made up of State Department officials and performs diplomatic functions. Many other countries have similar arrangements.

Lithuania’s second challenge to China was to withdraw this year from the 17 + 1 cooperation agreement between China and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This informal arrangement promised Chinese investment in the region’s infrastructure, but was increasingly used by China to maximize its diplomatic influence.

Beijing retaliated by recalling its ambassador from Vilnius, restricting trade and suspending rail service between the two countries. While the economic impact on Lithuania has so far been limited, diplomatically this is a red flag for the remaining European 16 + 1 members, and indeed for all of Europe.

These actions are consistent with other examples of China’s increasingly vehement approach to diplomatic relations. Australia’s trade with China has suffered from the call for a review of the origins of COVID-19; Canadian citizens have been arrested because of Canada’s due process in the context of possible extradition to the United States; and European officials and private entities have been sanctioned for exposing China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang. China’s stern approach has even undermined cooperation on issues such as climate change, for which a global response will be needed.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called for European unity in the face of Chinese reprisals. “From our point of view, it is high time for the EU to move from a 16 + 1 dividing format to a more unifying and therefore much more efficient 27 + 1 format,” said Landsbergis. “The EU is stronger when the 27 Member States act in concert with the EU institutions. Lithuania is right to call for solidarity in its relations with China. But this solidarity must go beyond the European Union alone to include all the transatlantic nations and cooperation if possible with Asian partners. The response must be comprehensive, including diplomatic, economic, security and institutional elements.

Diplomatically, nations with ties to Taiwan should explicitly include this word in the titles of their representative entities and should allow reciprocal use of Taiwan. The United States is apparently considering such a change.

A drastic change would undoubtedly precipitate a negative reaction from Beijing, but it can be done without involving Taiwan’s independence or sovereignty, as the use of the name can be coupled with a reiteration of the one-China policy. But if there is no need to change the one-China policy, the West should not be subject to China’s international censorship. Such a move would convey to China the degree of unity behind the need for a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question.

A second diplomatic effort should be for the EU 17 + 1 members to withdraw from this endeavor. Lithuania’s point is fully justified: a common EU approach to China is needed.

Several economic measures must also be considered. The comprehensive investment agreement between the EU and China, which is now suspended due to Chinese sanctions against members of the European Parliament, is expected to be further suspended pending the lifting of Chinese sanctions against Lithuania. Indeed, the Lithuanian dispute is an additional argument in favor of those in Europe who prefer to see the agreement definitively abandoned.

In contrast, the EU should consider recommendations set out in an April report by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in favor of Taiwan, including business partnerships on advanced technologies such as electric vehicles and semiconductors. and a possible bilateral investment agreement.

The new EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council should also be used to counter China’s assertive policies, such as subsidies that allow Chinese entities to cut prices for Western companies that have to bear market costs. . For example, the Chinese Huawei has overtaken Sweden’s Ericsson by 50% in the competition for 5G networks in the Netherlands.

In addition, the EU is considering a new legislative instrument designed to deter and thwart coercive actions by third countries taken against the EU or its Member States. This would allow the EU to retaliate by adopting trade, investment and other policy measures against the responsible country. If this instrument were created, the United States could act in concert with the EU to amplify the deterrent effect.

Finally, the transatlantic countries must strengthen their resilience in the face of ongoing Chinese cyber espionage and increase the costs for China of such actions, notably through the use of tariffs and other limits.

A third group of issues that require transatlantic attention concerns security. China’s stance vis-à-vis Lithuania is consistent with its increasingly assertive behavior vis-à-vis Taiwan and the South China Sea. NATO is now more focused than ever on Asia, but there is still a long way to go.

NATO is expected to form a new partnership with willing and negatively affected Asian partners by China, which could include those with relationships such as Japan and others like India. This new “NATO-Asia Forum” would include liaison offices, centers of excellence, joint military exercises and enhanced intelligence cooperation.

The peaceful resolution of the problems between Taipei and Beijing is essential for the whole world. Europe must recognize that any conflict between the United States and China in the Indo-Pacific would have global consequences, including for trade and investment, as such a conflict would undoubtedly disrupt supply chains entirely. and financial flows.

Chinese official statements have raised the prospect of potential hostilities, and actions, including incursions into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone, have increased dramatically. Europe should make it clear, as Japan has done, that it will fully support the United States in the event of such a conflict, including with trade and investment embargoes against China.

Finally, a new institution is needed to coordinate all the elements of China’s transatlantic policy. A new Transatlantic Coordinating Council, as proposed by the authors and colleagues in our recent report, “The China Plan,Should now be established. Such an entity would be made up of the nations of the EU and NATO, as well as the EU and NATO as members themselves. The proposed coordination council would have subgroups capable of focusing on specific areas of consequence.

The Lithuanian-Chinese dispute can be considered a minor matter. But its implications are much broader, and a set of appropriate responses offers an opportunity to consolidate transatlantic relations with China. Solidarity is essential. In the mind of Benjamin Franklin, we must all stick together, or surely we will all be hanging apart.


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William Macleod

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